This has been a pretty epic year for traveling and it’s been awesome to be able to spend so much time with friends from away… but I’m pretty sure I’m not going to be able to milk my 40th birthday for anything else. Celebrating in Vegas was a pretty fun way to do it up!
Same old same old… a couple of uneventful flights and we’re at our destination (you still suck Air Canada Rouge)… and since we were headed to the west coast, we didn’t actually have to back track across Canada … a very nice change. After leaving in the wee hours of our morning, we were in Vegas by 10am their time. Alice and Bill picked us up at the airport with birthday treats (thanks guys, you’re the best), and we headed out to find some lunch. We decided on Thai food and went to Komol… el cheapo lunch special pad thai for the win. Found some coffee and headed back to the hotel to check in.
We stayed at the Luxor on this adventure… chosen for price and location. It’s a bit weird, but it had everything we needed (including 4 Starbucks!) … during most of the weekend, half the elevators in our section of the pyramid didn’t work… which is super helpful when you’re staying on the 13th floor and want to save your legs. The elevators that went up the sides of the pyramid were weird. We had a nice view of the Mandalay Bay and the mountains (and also sunrise) from our room.
Rooms were ready, dumped our junk, changed to summer clothes (no socks! no socks! no socks!), and headed back out to the race expo to pick up all our stuff. So, the real reason we were in Vegas was to run the Rock N Roll half marathon, which happened to fall exactly on my 40th birthday. The expo was super well organized, and we got all our stuff super quick, and explored the rest for a bit. Lots of vendors, some of them pretty weird – not like the expos around here… my faves were the California police departments that were there recruiting.
We didn’t really have any plans for Thursday other than getting our race kits… so we winged it after that. Checked out the famous Welcome to Las Vegas sign, since it was so close to our hotel. We refrained from getting our pictures taken with Elvis or the scantily clad gal with the black leather and whip. Checked on some discount show tickets for either that night or the next and knew we could do better online, so aborted that mission. And then we headed to Tap in the MGM Grand for some supper. The food there was really good but the service was pretty terrible. Our server never reappeared after bringing us beer, and we’re pretty sure his shift ended and no one ever came to see us again. It took Alice tracking down two other servers to get our bill eventually. Not ideal. We didn’t really have anywhere to be, but we might have been thirsty dammit! Called it a night after that… Vegas or not, we’d been awake a lot of hours by that point.
Day 2 – Starbucks and iHop for breakfast, with excellent server Caesar… and then we were off to one of the most amazing places ever – Valley of Fire State Park. The weather was amazing… and walking around the different areas of the park was so much fun. We sucked at saving our legs for running since we were all climbing in, on, and through things… and wading through hot sand. So amazing though. Stunning landscapes, lots of interesting rocks, not tht many people… I’d definitely go back. By late afternoon, we were pooped… but more importantly hungry… so we headed back to Vegas via Henderson and stopped at Bistro Pizza in Henderson for some eats. Damn tasty after spending the afternoon in the desert.
Brief visit to the hotel for changing and we headed back out to the Mirage to see Love (Cirque du Soleil show based on the music of the Beatles). Stopped at a bar to try a local beer (West Coast IPAs are my fave!) while waiting to enter the theatre – tasty! I wanted to really love this show, because I generally love these kind of physical performances and I love most of the music of the Beatles, but I didn’t love this. I only liked it. I may have even fallen asleep during Octopus’s Garden (time zone shift!). For this show, the stage is surround by seats on all sides… which meant essentially that there was something going on all over the place all the time and it was actually very hard to watch. There was these annoying giant panel things they kept bringing out to try and split the stage in four, and every time they did, it just kind of made me angry. It was also pretty obvious they don’t have the rights to the most popular songs. So if you love the Beatles, by all means so see it… but it just wasn’t my favourite.
Day 3 – Saturday morning brought more friends to my birthday weekend! Our awesome friends Ingrid and Kathy from California made the short trek over to meet us and spend the weekend with us. So we took it easy Saturday morning… had some breakfast, played some slots (with free money!), walked around our end of the strip for a bit and watched a huge bike race start on the strip), and just generally relaxed until they made it from the airport. After that, we all headed to the Ri Ra Irish pub (in the shops between the Luxor and Mandalay Bay) for some lunch… though we stopped to meet Pete Rose along the way (i.e. Pete Rose was signing stuff at one of the shops and Ingrid bought something and we all got to meet him). Tasty eats at that pub.
And then it was time to get sorted for the first race of the weekend. We had decided to do the Saturday night 5K in addition to the half to stretch our legs (and for an extra medal). We parked down at Circus Circus and walked along the race route to get to the start. Chilled out for a while with 10,000 of our closest friends listening to music and whatever. The race was pretty well organized… but there’s some things you just can’t fix. Like getting 10,000 to line up properly and start when they are supposed to. I’m a slower running than my friends, so I started in a later corral than all of them… and it was wave start, so it actually means all three of them were about finished before I even got to start. And when I finally did get to start, I couldn’t run, because there was walkers everywhere (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I think maybe they should consider having a walkers only version of this one). So I knew when I was like 5 minutes later than my normal first km time that this would just be for fun… and that’s ok… admittedly, I wasn’t planning to kill myself since the half was the next day, but I hate leaving people waiting for me any longer than I have to. The race route for this one is terrible though, not wide enough, on bad roads, and too dark. But I got it done… and then we high-tailed it out of there to meet Kathy and Ingrid at Circus Circus. A quick change of clothes and we moved the party to find some food.
Kathy picked a place for us called Rock N Noodles. We arrived 10 minutes before they were about to close for the night, but they must have noticed our awesomeness and invited us to stay… in fact, the chef left the restaurant in our hands while he did a quick delivery and we drank beer and picked our eats, and then he came back and hooked us up. Chef David knows what he is doing… the food was amazing, the service was excellent, and I highly recommend it. Rock N Noodles for the win!
Into the chaos that is Fremont Street after that… Gary Sinise and his band was playing while we were there (I definitely don’t pop culture enough to have known Gary Sinise had a band, but they’re pretty good). Got some overpriced tea to keep Greg awake (we were keeping our beer intake in check until after the half), walked around for a while, saw a lot of naked people parts, dodged some puke, watched another band called Alter Ego, and that was enough of that. Unfortunately because of the bands, they weren’t doing the normal light shows on the ceiling. It was a Saturday night on race weekend and it was packed there. Stopped at the California hotel’s casino where Kathy was going to attempt to teach me craps, but the table was too busy. She walked away with some winnings, so it’s all good. Team East Coast was ready for bed.
Day 4 – Happy Birthday to me! With our previous business venture, we were always way too busy in November to do anything too crazy for my birthday… and definitely too busy to be able to travel, so it was pretty fun getting to spend my birthday somewhere else. I likely wouldn’t have planned on trying a half marathon until next year, but on the Vegas strip at night on my 40th seemed like it was meant to be. We didn’t do anything too crazy Sunday morning… had some breakfast, sat around talking over coffee, and we all went to brunch at Border Grille. The food was decent there, but it was a long wait for it, which resulted in us all eating way too many salty, but delicious, chips with salsa. Possibly not the best pre-race eats. By the time the food came, I was too full of chips to make much of a dent in my salad. Oh, and I bet on football at the sports book in the hotel and won!
With 30,000 people doing the full or half marathon from our starting area, we had to be there earlier than I would have liked for sure. But conveniently the start was across the street from our hotel. Our race came with a headliner concert before the race and live music along the route. The headliner was Snoop. I think Snoop sucks. And it’s definitely not the entertainment I would put with a ROCK N ROLL event. But whatever. I ignored it and chilled out with my friends. (At the expo, we saw the list of acts they’ve had at their other events and we got the short stick for sure!)
Again, with this many people, there’s definitely some waiting involved in when you get to start. And again all my friends were in corrals that left much sooner than mine. Having now done this race, I realize the key is to lie about your time so you can pretty much start whenever you want… since people were walking right off the bat while starting with fast half marathon runners. The waves started at 4:30, 5:00 (where my friends all were), and 5:30, where my start was. And the only reason I started even close to 5:30 is that I decided to move myself to a corral closer to the start of the 5:30 starts… no one was checking. I’m glad I did, because there was some work involved in getting around walkers from the start for me as well. Not that I am an amazing athlete, but I ran more than I walked in this event by a lot, and it’s super tedious having to weave around people walking in groups on the wrong side. Once we had a chance to spread out, it was better most of the time.
So having them close the strip to car traffic so we could run on it at night was pretty cool I have to say. It’s a view that you just don’t normally get. There was live music set up all the route, but I had my own playing, so I didn’t pay much attention to it. Lots of people were running in costumes (an Elvis finished first in the full marathon). People were having a good time. The weather was perfect!
Quick ranting about stuff that kind of sucked about this race: Water and Gatorade stations were empty towards the end of the race, arguably when runners might need them the most. That was super effin irritating (because I was thirsty)… and I’m sure some of the thousands of runners still behind me also thought so. Parts of the route (downtown) weren’t ideal, after the race it took ages to get out of the corral and to get some water, and they ran out of beer (which is a perk they advertise)… Runner tracking to people’s cell phones didn’t work, even though they heavily advertised this as well. Also, I spent a lot of time running towards the Stratosphere hotel… and it moves! I swear! None of this is the end of the world, for sure. It’s chaos at the end, so it took some doing to find my gang, but we got it sorted out with cell phones.
Now the awesome stuff. I survived a half marathon and have the shiny medal to prove it. I beat my secret goal by 14 seconds – my public goal was to finish before they got out the hooks (4 hours) and I definitely had time to spare. Go me! I was pretty sore by the end… especially my feet, even though I run in fluffy cloud sneakers, just from so much time spent running on concrete. Amazingly, I was a little bit stiff the next day, but otherwise fine. I was (and am) pretty damn proud of myself for this. Even a year ago, I would have never thought that this is something I would (or could) do. On my birthday with people who matter, pretty amazing! (This was also Alice’s first half marathon and she did AMAZING! WTG Al!) I’ve decided we’re all damn rock stars!
We grabbed a cab from Caesar’s Palace back to the Luxor after the race with no real wait… none of us had another 45 minutes of walking in us to get back to the hotel. The plan was to shower up and get changed and then find a place to go out for supper for my birthday. But the plan changed slightly when we got back to our room and I found the door decorated… and then the inside was SUPER decorated, and there was cake (vegan cake!!), and beer (by then, I wanted all the beer and sugar as I had been mostly abstaining until after the race)… apparently there was a master plan that involved everyone but me for this. Greg, Alice, Bill, Ingrid, and Kathy – you guys are all amazing and I can’t thank you enough for making my birthday (weekend) awesome!
We hit the Ri Ra pub again after that – quick and easy – for some eats… cause starving!! I don’t run with food of any kind, and by half way through the half I was starving to death, and the station that has gels and stuff had none left by the time I got there (and I wasn’t anywhere near close to last at this one)… so beer and eats! PS: If you get fish and chips at this pub, bring a friend, it’s enormous! And then back to our room for cake and beer! And then there was sleeping.
Day 5 – We could all still walk on Monday, so that was promising. We had some lunch at a sushi place that I can’t remember the name of it. It was fine. And then we headed to the Neon Boneyard, which was one of my must-see spots for Vegas. Essentially it’s where several of the old tacky Vegas signs go to die (or to be revived, which has been the case for some of them). The tour is about an hour and they don’t take that many people. I found it pretty interesting, but I’d love to get in there without any people and my camera gear.
Found some Starbucks after that (cause we had rewards that we needed to find a standalone Starbucks to use), and because sugar! Took Ingrid and Kathy to the Vegas sign, and then we dropped them off at the airport. Thanks again for coming!!! So awesome!
Alice and Bill still had a few hours to kill before their flights, so we headed down to the more central part of the strip and walked around the Venetian for a bit. We had supper at the Buddy V’s (the guy from the Cake Boss) restaurant… my pizza was good… and bought some baked goods to try from his bakery (OK, nothing amazing), and then walked around some more. Chilled out at our hotel for a while, more beer, and then it was time to say goodbye to Alice and Bill.
Day 6 – Greg and I had another whole day in Vegas, so we spent a lot of time walking around and checking things out. This was Greg’s first trip to Vegas, so I wanted to show him around. And since I’m a travel agent now, I wanted to check out some stuff. We went to Bruxie for breakfast… it’s a chicken and waffles place, but they had breakfast options. Took some random pictures with lego sculptures in a park. And then back to the hotel for a bit. The plan was to check in for our flights the next day and stuff, and then spend the day wandering. We didn’t have much luck with AC online for any part of this trip, so that didn’t work out. But I did have a small nap instead. And then we spent the entire rest of the day exploring stuff on the strip (in fact, we walked another half marathon at least that day).
We had some lunch at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant Burgr in Planet Hollywood, walked around the shops attached to it, tried some vegan ice cream at Ben & Jerry’s, found some drinks, checked out the Cromwell (I wanted to see what it looked like on the inside now since I had stayed there when it was called something else and looked a lot different), walked through the Flamingo, got a bartender at Margaritaville to make me a tasty concoction that’s not on their menu anymore, walked through the Linq outdoor area, took a night time ride on the High Roller (giant ferris wheel) to 500+ feet above the strip, had a treat from Sprinkles (they had a cupcake ATM), went through the Mirage and the Bellagio, stopped to watch the fountains, and in general just walked around some more.
Day 7 – Time to go home. The trip back home was long and pretty uneventful. As with the way there, we had a shitty Air Canada Rouge plane with no leg room, no device charging, and terrible entertainment (we were prepared with movies on our devices this time, but I ended up watching cartoons on their system). Customs in Montreal was quick and easy (though they have changed things again and we needed to drag our luggage through again… we haven’t had to do that in years). Shame on you Montreal airport Starbucks for not having ice… friggers! Waiting for our final flight of the day, they informed us that it was foggy at home and if they couldn’t land they would have to bring us all the way back to Montreal. Fortunately we landed at home as planned. Backpacks were nearly the first out of the spinner, and off we went for home.
And now my random commentary, as is tradition… Vegas is still super smokey, but no where near as it was the last time I was there, which was nice. I love being able to walk around everywhere with drinks, including coming and going from restaurants and bars with them. I hate that the Starbucks locations in hotels privately owned and are super overpriced (not just the normal level of Starbucks overpriced). All in all, this was a most excellent adventure and a super fun way to spend my birthday.
For the first time in a very long, we actually don’t know where we are headed to yet… but stay tuned.